The Autism Symbol and Its Change Over the Years

The puzzle piece is a logo that is generally used as a universal symbol of autism spectrum disorder. However, in addition to the puzzle piece sign, which is considered the unofficial logo of autism, it is not known if it has drawn your attention, there are also different symbols used for the same purpose. The infinity sign can be an example of these different symbols. So, what are these autism symbols designed to tell us outside the autism community?

When you want to reach an image describing autism and autism awareness on the internet, it is very likely that you will see a puzzle piece symbol immediately. So what is this symbol used for? What is the history of this symbol or other autism symbols that are thought to draw attention to autism and autism awareness? Why are these symbols preferred by autism associations, parents of children with autism, and individuals who want to increase autism awareness?

First of all, knowing what these symbols mean gives us, we can start by having a little idea about this. If you want to know exactly what autism is, understand, or change your perspective on autism, you should be aware that the autism symbols you choose also have content. It is also always useful to know what the symbols mean and why the specific symbol is accepted.

Contrary to common belief, the use of symbols is not a simple indicator. There are deep discussions and history behind the use of symbols. You should know that each autism symbol carries a different content and it occurs as a result of a situation where different perspectives conflict.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the situation, which is passed over by saying “Here is the symbol” and seen as an insignificant and simple choice, can reflect your unconscious anxieties in your unconscious until your relationships with children with autism and the forms of education and therapy you choose.

The Story of Puzzle Piece

The puzzle piece was first used as a symbol of autism in 1963. This symbol was designed by Gerald Gasson, a board member of the Autistic Children Association (NAC). Gerald’s being both a board member and a parent of individuals with autism made it easier for the symbol to be accepted.

The representation of the puzzle piece to the situations of individuals with autism was effective in designing, creating, and selecting the symbol. The situations of individuals with autism are also full of unknowns like puzzle pieces. The problems experienced by individuals with autism were also assumed as astonishing, just like the astonishment given to us when each puzzle piece was placed in its place.

This symbol has also been found suitable for use by autism organizations. It was used for the first time, it had never been used for any other purpose before, and most importantly, it was unlike a symbol used for commercial purposes.

The puzzle piece was not what it looks like when it was first designed. When it was first used, there was a profile of a crying child in the puzzle piece. This profile has been used to represent the suffering of individuals with autism over their differences. This symbol was used because of the desire to fit the individuals with autism who cannot fully adapt to their environment due to the differences in their brains into society as if it were a puzzle piece.

It is possible to see this puzzle piece symbol, which represents autism and is the most well-known, as an “autism awareness” strip containing red, blue and yellow pieces. However, after a while, the autism community began to oppose using this symbol. They think that metaphors such as riddle, piece, and incomplete in the puzzle piece symbol harm individuals with autism.

The Story of the Change in the Autism Symbol

Criticism and objections to the puzzle piece symbol caused the subject of changing the symbol to be transferred to the Autism Research Journal. The editors of the magazine took the first step in this regard by contacting scientists who think that the puzzle piece symbol should not be used as a universal symbol and who carry out serious studies on this issue. They started the process of change in the symbol, emphasizing that it is necessary to use a symbol that is more up-to-date, less aggressive, and more responsive to the needs in the 21st century, where we started to modernize.

Upon the onset of this change, they began to express the continuing concerns of the scientists who were voicing the problems posed by the puzzle piece symbol. Different symbols were started to be used and arrangements were made in the perspective of these symbols. There was serious criticism that the puzzle piece was fed by the idea that autism was seen as a deficiency and a problem.

After a long period of criticism, discussion, and exchange of ideas, it was agreed that the puzzle piece was no longer a suitable symbol to represent autism spectrum disorder. The move away from the puzzle piece and towards the new symbol design is not just about choosing how autism is represented. It represents a wider change.

Exactly in February 2018, the puzzle piece ceased to be the universally accepted autism symbol. Instead of the puzzle piece symbol, a rainbow-colored infinity symbol is used to represent diversity. This symbol has come to represent the need for us to be more sensitive to changes that lead to better lives and results for individuals with autism and their families. This change in the representation of the symbol also guarantees cooperation and sharing between the rest of the society and individuals with autism.

What Did Individuals with Autism Want to Emphasize by Saying “I’m Not A Puzzle Piece”?

  • I am a human. I have no missing parts. I don’t need to be put together and fixed. Just because I have autism doesn’t mean I am not human. Education is also my right. It is also my right to be treated. Having a lack does not make me less human than the rest of the world.
  • Autism is not different or deeper than the mystery of other disorders that we do not yet fully understand. This feature is not enough or convincing to be symbolized by the puzzle piece.
  • The limited communication an individual with autism tries to establish with the rest of the world is due to the fact that the thoughts of the person with autism are not known, it is not related to the fact that the person with autism is a puzzle. Not knowing these thoughts leads to uncertainty. It takes more effort from the other side to fill the gap. But this situation is equivalent to trying to understand the other party in a country whose language you do not know. Just because you don’t know the language doesn’t mean it is complicated.
  • Unlike the puzzle piece symbol, the rainbow symbol refers to a spectrum, that is, diversity and difference. It expresses the diversity very well visually. Although the symbol of infinity still represents a mystery, it does not refer to the unknowability of this mystery, but to its diversity and opportunities. These symbols remind us that although autism itself is a tiring process, we should not ignore its positive aspects thanks to its diversity.
  • Most of the families with autism stated that they preferred to be represented with the rainbow symbol over the puzzle piece. They are not interested in looking for what is missing. They see what they have as color and are concerned with the differences in this color scale.

What Individuals With Autism Want Us To Be Aware Of While Communicating With Them

Trying to make sense of the world is already a challenging activity in itself. It becomes much more difficult for individuals with autism. Communicating with others and sharing ideas is often not easy. This situation is also much more difficult and overwhelming for people with autism. However, according to scientists specialized in their field, the communication, and interaction that individuals with autism establish with the people around them can be facilitated by us.

1. Every individual with autism is different, but some of their problems may be common.

It is known that one in every 160 children in the world has autism spectrum disorder. These individuals also follow a different way of communicating as a result of differences in their development. They find it difficult to communicate with others in their social life. These strains can even cause anxiety. On the other hand, it is a known fact that these differences vary from person to person. Some individuals on the spectrum are more affected, while others may be less affected. When you want to communicate with a person with autism, you should not ignore this fact.

2. They may not be able to distinguish someone’s speech from other sounds they hear.

Individuals with autism try to hear all sounds in the outside world at the same time and concentrate on just one sound. And this situation, you can imagine, is extremely tiring and challenging. Their brains cannot automatically filter out other sounds while chatting. Therefore, do not forget that you may need to repeat the same sentences several times when communicating with an individual with autism.

3. They may not understand the implications, signs, and fine details.

Individuals with autism may also find it difficult to interpret the changing tone of voice and facial expressions of the other party. This is why they do not understand sarcastic words, parables, and styles. When people with autism communicate, you should keep this in mind and prefer a more realistic expression.

4. You should try to talk by putting the conversation in context.

When talking to someone with autism, you should add why what you are describing is important or different. In this way, the person with autism perceives more easily and understands what you want to tell more easily.

5. They may not know at what point to get involved in the conversation.

Individuals with autism who have a hard time understanding the behavior and body language of the people around them may not know when to start the conversation, when to end it, or when the best moment to join the conversation will be. That’s why the best approach to include people with autism in your conversation will be the questions you direct to them.

6. The speeches of individuals with autism may seem different to us.

For the person with autism, speaking has a different meaning than it does for us. Speaking for them means thinking very carefully. That’s why they speak more monotonously and slowly. They emphasize unusual parts of the sentence and word. They go into too much detail. Therefore, it is very important to listen carefully to the person with autism. You should take care to give them space and the time they need.

7. Socializing is very difficult for individuals with autism.

Socializing is a challenging activity in itself. On the other hand, individuals with high functioning autism are very successful in imitating it. But this is very tiring for them and takes a lot of effort. At this point, communicating with individuals with autism via text or e-mail can also reduce the stress created by socialization.

8. Individuals with autism reflect their emotions in unexpected ways and forms.

As individuals with autism perceive the world differently when we perceive it, they also use different ways to reflect this. They are very likely to give unusual reactions. They experience some emotions stronger and others weaker. This situation makes it difficult for them to put their feelings into words. In such cases, you can facilitate communication by asking clearer questions or using photos.

9. Individuals with autism can repeat the words of the other person.

Repetitive behaviors are one of the main symptoms of autism. This includes repeating words. When they want to make sure they understand what the other person is saying and gain time to think, they can repeat what the other person is saying. At such moments, all you have to do is reassure them that they are understood.

10. Using written language facilitates communication with people with autism.

Individuals with autism communicate more easily via e-mail or phone. They experience less stress. They have time to think without any pressure. The existence of social signs that they cannot make sense of disappears.

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